Big shoes to fill

In the words of Carl O’Brien and Patsy McGarry in this morning’s edition of the Irish Times, the Murphy report says that: is the responsibility of the State to ensure that no similar institutional immunity was ever allowed to occur again.

Now there are some pretty big shoes to fill. Given the levels and depth of State and Church complicity outlined in the report, how should we (as a people) ensure that no similar immunity is allowed to ever happen again? In much the same way as there’s a ‘people bought houses built on floodplains for vastly inflated prices’ narrative, to what extent does the “they did it” become the “we did it”? The report talks about deferential attitudes and senior Garda officers taking the investigation of abuse out of the hands of their lower ranking colleagues. It strikes me that any discussion about responsibility or blame or call it what you will cannot only be a discussion about technical competency. By this I mean talk about ‘systems being put in place’ or ‘protocols established’.

To Do List for This Year
Photo owned by wnstn (cc)

This must also be a discussion about holding people to account for bad judgement and ensuring that what we accept in our own immediate family is similarly unacceptable for our neighbours and their children. Calling injustice for what it is when seen and heard (as opposed to crying wolf over our own sectional interests) would be a good first step. To do this, there must be some measure of agreement about what we (all of us here on this island) want for ourselves. No one else will do this. This may mean a new discussion about who it is ‘the State’ in Ireland is for.

When Church authorities cover up the abuse of children as they have shown to have done, it is not about ‘calling in’ the State’s ambulances to treat the walking wounded. The State in Ireland, as we have learned over this last 30 years or so is complicit in as many ‘scandals’ as any church has been. Abbeylara shootings, Donegal Garda corruption, Glengad beach to name but three. Its reach has been extended over a time frame that is roughly concomitant with the decline of the Catholic Church as a universalising institution. The complicity in State organisations in the systematic cover up of abuse and its perpetration is one of the clear messages coming out at this early stage. Aside from that, there is a clear and unambiguous conflict between what the institutional Church tells us is fair and just and what is done in its name by its leaders. At the core of this conflict are hierarchical relationships. In that respect, Nell McCafferty’s questions of Diarmaid Martin about the use of formal titles for his peers and fellow priests remain relevant. Whose grace and whose father?